By Jori Epstein
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wanted to christen So-Fi Stadium in Los Angeles.
With a prime-time season opener scheduled against the Rams, he gets his wish.
“I had my fingers crossed we’d get a chance to open that stadium,” Jones said Thursday as the Cowboys released their 2020 schedule. “In that entertainment capital of the world in that iconic stadium, your Dallas Cowboys are coming out there to show up on center stage.
“It feels like the Dallas Cowboys.”
An action-packed schedule of division foes and playoff contenders is slated to follow before year’s end.
Here are five takeaways from the Cowboys’ 2020 lineup followed by a full listing of their schedule:
Best in the west?
The Cowboys’ frequent-flier miles will pile as they migrate west, first to Los Angeles in Week 1 and soon after to Seattle in Week 3. Two early road games against teams who finished 2019 with winning records should test how prepared head coach Mike McCarthy is for his first year at Dallas’ helm. That mettle could help a Cowboys team that arguably misjudged its 2019 3-0 start after beating cellar dwellers in the Giants, Redskins and Dolphins, concluding with a 5-8 finish. Their September 2020 slate should better reveal how they stack up against two balanced teams with Super Bowl-caliber coaches. After that, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield will visit AT&T Stadium, where he’ll see a slew of familiar Oklahoma faces against him. Even before then, McCarthy won’t have the luxury of hiding growing pains: The Cowboys-Rams opener will air on "Sunday Night Football."
Here comes the NFC East
Six of the eight previous seasons, the Cowboys have opened against the NFC East-rival Giants. This year, their first division game is scheduled for Week 5, an Oct. 11 Giants visit to Dallas. The Cowboys will run through the division with three of four games in that stretch against the NFC East (at Washington on Oct. 25, at Philadelphia Nov. 1 on "Sunday Night Football"). McCarthy’s success in the NFC East will be a story line worth watching. In Jason Garrett’s nine-and-a-half seasons as Cowboys head coach, he won 55.9% of his games (85-67) overall. Within the division, he won 65.6% (38-20) of contests. Can McCarthy cement the Cowboys as the best in the NFC East? In Week 5, he’ll have his first chance against the Giants … and their offensive coordinator, Garrett.
December to remember
December appears to be the toughest month on the Cowboys’ schedule. They travel to 2019’s top-seeded AFC team, Baltimore, for what could be a chilly game of "Thursday Night Football." Two weeks later, the reigning NFC champion 49ers visit North Texas. Will Lamar Jackson and his teammates still be flashing their 2019 dominance? Will Kyle Shanahan’s game plans still be confounding opponents? If the Cowboys can hit their stride in December, they could position themselves to enter the playoffs battle-tested. A bonus: Longtime AFC North quarterback Andy Dalton, now the Cowboys’ backup, can help Dallas prep for back-to-back December games at Baltimore and Cincinnati.
The Cowboys, of course, will play their annual Thanksgiving game. Facing longtime NFC East rival Washington will be a fitting nod to the tradition and perhaps a welcome streak for Dallas to chase. The Cowboys beat the Redskins on Thanksgiving their last two tries, in 2016 and 2018. They’ve lost their other four Thanksgiving games since 2014, including last season’s demoralizing loss to the Bills, when the Cowboys scored just 7 points in the first 56 minutes of the game. As has also become tradition, the Cowboys will play consecutive Thursday night games, the Baltimore matchup following one week after Thanksgiving. This will be the fifth straight year the Cowboys’ "Thursday Night Football" appearance is scheduled immediately after Thanksgiving.
A chance for revenge
The Cowboys were in the driver's seat for the playoffs throughout nearly the entirety of last season. A Dec. 22 unraveling against the Eagles was the point of no return for Garrett (and, for a few hours, the Cowboys’ plane). The Cowboys’ contest vs. Philadelphia on Dec. 27, 2020 could decide the division that has, of late, shuffled back and forth between the Cowboys and Eagles. No team has defended the NFC East title since the Eagles last did in 2004. McCarthy will hope that trend continues in his first year with what’s shaping up to be a stacked offensive lineup and solid defense. The Cowboys hired McCarthy hoping he’ll repeat the Super Bowl success he found in Green Bay. Winning in December vs. Philadelphia is a good start toward postseason goals.